Roger Kauffman has had to move his mobile home three times in his life, but he was hoping that his relocation to Dogwood Senior Mobile Home Park in Arnold would be his last. “To move that sucker is $20,000,” he said. “The last move really hurt me.”
Moreover, he’s happy living at Dogwood. “The peace and quiet is just unreal,” he said. “I had planned on dying here. This is the best park I ever lived in.”
Living out the rest of his life in his current location, however, is now an uncertainty for Kauffman, just as it is for his neighbors.
Over the course of the past year, the residents of Dogwood have been waiting on official word that they need to move. When that time comes, many of them don’t know where they’re going to go.
The property, tucked away in the woods at 1277-1279 Ritchie Highway, has been under contract to be bought by Elm Street Development since March 2018 with plans to build 40 single-family detached townhomes.
For the 25 seniors leasing lots at the park, this brings much uncertainty. “My biggest concern right now,” said resident Kathy Ortega, who emphasized that she respects the current property owner’s right to sell the property, “is it puts us in a conundrum because I’m 60, and we’re all in later stages of life. We don’t want to buy something and have house payments for who knows how long.”
Although the seller was unavailable for comment, Elm Street Development indicated that it plans to help the residents with the transition. “Should we move forward with the project, we will be providing the tenants monetary relocation assistance to help them relocate their mobile homes to new locations,” said Vice President Michael Burlbaugh. Compensation to residents is required by law only if a park has more than 40 units; in this case, Elm Street Development does not have to provide any relocation assistance. “This monetary assistance is a voluntary offer by the development team and is not required by state or county code,” Burlbaugh indicated.
Additionally, Arnold Preservation Council has tried to facilitate a beneficial outcome for all involved parties. “APC has worked very hard with exploring all opportunities,” said President Elizabeth Rosborg. “We’ve talked with the county, Habitat for Humanity, the residents, the developers. Unfortunately, there is no easy answer.”
Rosborg explained that Dogwood has been leased as a mobile home park for about 50 years, and that other options in Anne Arundel County are limited. As each of the Dogwood residents goes about trying to find options, they run into trouble. Resident Fred Greim received a list of potential parks from the county, but his 14-by-70-foot home keeps getting rejected. “They tell me it’s too big for their spot,” he said. “They want the smaller ones.”
Other parks lack the conveniences that Dogwood offers. “I don’t drive, and this is right on the bus line,” said resident William Kirby. “It’s very convenient for me.” Other residents cited proximity to doctors, work and family as being especially beneficial.
Dogwood is also unusual among mobile home parks because the lots are spacious, allowing the tenants to maintain yards and gardens between them. The 9-acre property, which sits between Severna Park Golf Center and the residential street Moore Road, is mainly preserved as woodlands. Tenants enjoy listening to birds chirp and seeing foxes, deer and raccoons moving among the foliage. Resident Chuck Manto describes it as one of the rare situations in which affordable housing is done at a low density, thus preserving the quality of the land.
“What’s interesting in this situation is this becomes a model for low-density affordable housing as opposed to high-density affordable housing,” he said. “The reason that’s important is there are places where it might not be environmentally prudent to have high-density housing. We are one of those cases where – because of the location at headwaters of one or two creeks – having raw land with tall trees is a good thing because the ground manages itself much better for stormwater. If you paved it over with a parking lot, you’d do substantial damage to the headwaters.”
Manto also expressed concern that Anne Arundel County’s options for low-income residents to find housing are limited. A community’s resiliency, he said, depends on having access for people in the workforce, especially police, firefighters and hospital workers.
State law requires that if land use of a mobile home park changes, the landowner must provide a relocation plan for residents who will be displaced as a result of that change, according to Kathy Koch, executive director of Arundel Community Development Services, which works to ensure that the relocation plan is being met.
“We provide one-on-one counseling to the residents and figure out what they can and can’t afford and what their options might be,” she said. “The developer has not submitted the plan, so we have not officially started our work, but we have been out there talking to people about what’s coming up and what options they may have.”
Elm Street Development does not have plans to begin development any time soon. The property is still under contract, not purchased, and Burlbaugh estimates it will be at least two years before construction begins. “The county subdivision process includes a substantial amount of community input,” he said. “Anyone is free to attend the public meetings that are part of the subdivision process, as well as contacting Planning and Zoning directly with any questions, concerns or suggestions.”
Information for upcoming meetings as they are announced will be available through the county at www.aacounty.org/departments/planning-and-zoning and Arnold Preservation Council at www.arnoldpreservationcouncil.org.